Venue: The Savoy
Lady Thatcher, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Five years ago, when the doors opened at Politico’s for the first time, I can’t have imagined that I would be here tonight, in the presence of so many who have helped make our business what it is today.
So may I start by thanking all those here for ensuring that what many people saw as a risky bookshop venture has not only survived but flourished into a thriving publishing business - and now a political website design agency too.
So to our shareholders, customers, authors, website clients and suppliers, thank you for making this occasion possible.
I would also like to thank my shareholders for their confidence in the business and me in particular, and all those who work for the three Politico’s companies.
Your efforts ARE appreciated, not just by me but by the thousands of people who buy our books.
Finally in this litany of thanks I would like to thank my chairman, John Simmons, the quiet guiding light behind the business.
Every organisation has its front man but few see the person behind the scenes who stops me from doing things I might later come to regret.
John, thank you for your constant support,
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope this will be the first in a series of Politico’s Literary events, and I can announce tonight that later in the year we hope to be holding events with Tony Benn, Mo Mowlam, Michael Foot and Peter Mandelson – but possibly not together.
We are delighted to support the British Forces Foundation at tonight’s event. The BFF was Jim Davidson’s creation and exists to support British servicemen overseas.
We are happy to see several of its leading supporters here – in particular Sir Rex Hunt, who, twenty years ago today was on his way back to Britain, having been expelled from the Falklands.
But he was soon back there.
I hope you will be generous in your bids for the excellent items we have in the auction later.
Running a retail business can have its lighter moments – like the time a senior cabinet Minister’s credit card declined – or when you’re doing a TV interview with German Television – in German – about the merits or otherwise of the Third Way, and Peter Mandelson pokes his head round the door. Just checking I was ‘on message’ no doubt. Sorry Peter, I somehow think I wasn’t!
And then there’s Ann Widdecombe – delighted to see you here tonight Ann - ‿
Ann’s first novel, The Clematis Tree has been a huge success, but I do sometimes wonder why.
She certainly has a unique way of selling it.
At the Tory Party Conference two years ago I was rather alarmed at her marketing technique.
Like a market trader she would brandish the book and shout out: “No sex, no violence, no swearing!”
Ann, I thought, “you’re at a Tory Party Conference!”, which let’s face it usually has its fair share of all three – and that’s just among the Shadow Cabinet!
But she proved me wrong – and we sold all 400 copies.
Another particular highlight has been the numerous evening booklaunch events we have hosted.
Our publishing director, Sean Magee, often accuses me of being a philistine – not just because I come from Essex and support West Ham, but I truly have no interest in literary genres other than politics.
I’m afraid at the launch of Christopher Hitchens’ book on the misdemeanours of President Clinton - a surprisingly short book - I proved him right, when I threw the best selling authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan out of the shop after they refused to stop smoking.
I hadn’t a clue who they were. Not that it would have made much difference if I had!
But running a publishing company can be even more stressful.
One of our authors – who is here tonight – and I leave it to you to guess his identity – decided that Politico’s was not upmarket enough to launch his memoirs – he suggested a launch party at the lapdancing club, Spearmint Rhinos.
I may come from Essex, but even I drew the line at that!
This dinner takes place in the week of the twentieth anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
My new book, Memories of the Falklands contains more than 80 evocative reminiscences from those intimately involved in the war – soldiers, Falkland Islanders and politicians.
One of the politicians was Sir John Nott and I’m delighted that we will be hearing from John later on. He will tell us something of his role in the conflict and talk about his controversial memoirs, Here Today Gone Tomorrow, which Politico’s published a couple of weeks ago.
We will then hear from Sir Bernard Ingham about life at Downing Street in the 1980s. Sir Bernard has a new book out next year on Spin Doctors and I can tell you that if I can reach agreement with his agent, Politico’s intends re-publishing his memoirs very soon.
And I’m equally pleased that we shall also be hearing from Peter Hennessy - and again from Gyles Brandreth. I wanted them to be part of this evening because they have both been such good friends to Politico’s over the years and they are both such brilliant writers.
But best of all, like me, they are inveterate gossips.
Peter never says “I’ll see you soon” – it’s always “We’ll gossip again soon” – and this from an academic!
And Gyles’s Westminster diaries, Breaking the Code is simply the best political book of the last 5 years.
If all authors were as relentless in promoting their books as Peter and Gyles I would be closer to achieving my goal of retiring at 40 – but seeing as that dreaded birthday looms in only three months time, I suspect that won’t be happening.
On February 11th 1975, as a twelve year old boy, I remember rushing upstairs to tell my grandmother, who was ill in bed, that Margaret Thatcher had been elected leader of the Conservative Party. She started weeping. She was 81 and knew what it meant for a woman to have achieved this high office.
Now I have been warned by some well meaning friends tonight not to gush in my welcome for our guest of honour.
But as the website editor of MargaretThatcher.com and the editor of a book called Memories of Maggie, you might well imagine what it means to me to sit next to the woman who, along with my grandmother, awakened my interest in politics back in the late 1970s.
Lady Thatcher, when we heard two weeks ago that you were to retire from public speaking, we naturally wondered what effect that announcement might have on tonight’s event.
I had the dubious honour of commenting on the announcement on Sky News within a couple of hours. I said then that the fact that you would not be making any more public speeches most certainly did not mean we had heard the last of Margaret Thatcher and I suspected you would be equally as forthright in your written work as you had been on public platforms.
The views you express in Statecraft bear testament to that. It is not a book for the faint hearted – full of characteristically honest opinions on the future of Britain in world affairs.
I read Chris Patten’s review in The Guardian and wondered if he and I had read the same book! It helped me understand Alan Watkins’s remark that Margaret Thatcher was the opposition within her own government!
Statecraft reminds me in parts of three of the books Richard Nixon wrote after he left the presidency – The Real War, Beyond Peace and In the Arena. And believe me, I can pay it no higher accolade. Nixon is one of the finest political writers I have ever read.
But frankly, Statecraft doesn’t need my recommendation.
It has just become the biggest selling hardback book in Politico’s history.
By the end of this week we will have sold more than a thousand copies – an incredible figure for a single, relatively small shop. So Lady Thatcher – if you keep signing, we’ll keep selling‿
We are thrilled that you, Sir Denis and Carol are here. It really would not have been the same without you.
Thank you for helping us to celebrate our 5th birthday and it is our pleasure to help you celebrate the publication of Statecraft.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I do hope this evening lives up to your expectations.
We will hear some wonderful speakers later on, and at the end of the evening I hope you will take the opportunity to meet the twenty Politico’s authors who will happily sign their books for you afterwards in the River Room, where you will also be able to buy copies of Statecraft, personally signed by Margaret Thatcher.
Thank you so much for your support over the last five years – I only hope the next five are equally as exciting.